How to make learning a treat, not a task

The only way to make learning stick is to make it a treat, rather than a task, according to Timo Schuette VP of SAP's Product Learning Center of Excellence

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Aug 30, 2023

Development of new tools and technologies has caused a spectacular spike in innovation.

Entirely new roles are emerging – including enterprise architects (who utilize AI to optimize processes. As such – and perhaps not surprisingly – it has also caused a need for more people to be trained with the sorts of skillsets that can handle this across all industries.

The good news, is that In this transformational atmosphere, employees are eager to enhance their skills.

However, an unsettling gap has been identified when comparing how employers perceive the upskilling opportunities they provide, and how their employees perceive them.

This is the fact that 89% of employers say upskilling opportunities are provided frequently, but just 61% of employees actually agree with this.

Worse-still, even when employee development programs are offered and available, they run the very real risk of falling to the bottom of people’s to-do lists amidst daily deadlines, urgent needs, and large projects.

The reason for this that far too often, learning is presented to staff as a ‘chore’ rather than a treat.

So what can L&D managers do to avoid their learning falling into this trap?

Ensure learning is an exciting part of the schedule

The first thing to acknowledge is the fact that employees are busy.

Many are balancing daily tasks, troubleshooting, and trying to keep pace with new technology – all while still adapting to a hybrid lifestyle.

Additionally, working from home has blurred the lines of work/life balance, making it harder for some workers to truly detach or relax when the workday ends. These factors contribute to an overwhelming 94% of workers reporting feeling stress at work.

If team leaders want to demonstrate their value on team growth, considering mental health and busy schedules, they must carve out designated time and space for employees to focus on professional learning opportunities without feeling the need to multitask.

To successfully implement this, business leaders should properly mark out time on a calendar for full team development opportunities.

Depending on company bandwidth, employers can dedicate a few hours bi-weekly or monthly for learning programs. At SAP, we’ve created ‘Focus Fridays’— a meeting-free day dedicated to getting things done, upskilling, and learning.

Here. employees participating in learning and development opportunities are encouraged and celebrated for taking time for themselves, to home-in on personal and professional skills – an effort that will benefit the entire company.

Tailor learning programs to employee needs

While a majority of workers prefer to learn in groups, others learn better one-on-one, and some may prefer to learn alone.

In addition to differing learning styles, employees’ career goals and passions can vary drastically, even for those in the same position.

So, checking-in with employees to gauge what they want or need out of a development program is vital to employee satisfaction.

If workers don’t see the learning opportunity as personally relevant or helpful – these opportunities will become just another task on their to-do list that they dread.

To make sure the learning courses offered are relevant and helpful, it’s important to touch base with employees on the structure of upskilling opportunities. For example:

Do they prefer something self-paced, or do they value group opportunities?

Do they value internal teachers, or would they prefer an external program?

While many of these factors can vary based on company bandwidth and budget, it is pertinent to seek employee opinion when planning out learning and development programs.

While implementing new learning opportunities, it is also important to remember the value of feedback.

Offering a forum for anonymous feedback can encourage employees to be truthful and clear about what’s working and what’s not when it comes to employee development. This enables leadership to adapt and better understand their workforce.

Why this works: There are countless benefits to tailoring trainings that can positively impact business and culture. Personalized programs can help employees pave their way to the roles and skills they will thrive in: 81% of employees participating in certification programs produce a higher quality of work and 72% are more efficient. Enabling employees to specialize and develop unique skills can also lead to a more well-rounded, creative, and collaborative team.

Provide opportunities for employees to apply the skills they learned

Some 70% of American workers say that if only their company gave them more opportunities to apply new skills, they would be more likely to stay throughout their career.

So, providing opportunities for development is the first step.

But it only goes so far if employees don’t feel like their upskilling will impact their role or future at the company.

As years go by, unpracticed skills can require sharpening, especially when ways of working are changing with evolving technology. So in order to maximize the benefits of training a workforce, be ready for them to implement their new learnings. For example, participating employees could be tapped to share their learnings in a team presentation or asked to lead a new project focused on their newly learned skills.

Leaders should therefore consider having honest conversations with employees around how current learning opportunities will impact their future at the company, such as how gaining certifications could lead to role transformation or potential promotions.

This is a good time to check-in with employees about how they would like to see their role transform in the future and how learning opportunities could steer them in the right direction.

Without explicitly communicating the ROI of learning opportunities, employees may question the purpose or benefits of dedicating time and energy to such opportunities.

Why this works: Those participating in learning and development opportunities are 4.1x more likely to adapt to change, making them prime candidates for new roles or increased responsibility.

Final thoughts…

The opportunity to learn and grow is something most employees seek out when looking for an employer.

Yet, making sure employees are getting the most out of these programs is crucial not only for employee contentment, but also for organizational growth.

By providing time and space, tailoring programs to match employee interests, and demonstrating to teams that these new skills will be applicable to their current role, employers can ensure that learning is seen as a welcomed treat, and not a dreaded task.

Reasons for making learning more exciting:

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